Don't Ask

Things Not To Say to a Technical Writer and How to Respond

by Mumpy

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But nobody ever reads the manuals anyway.

As said by a Product Manager in a large meeting. The correct response to this does not involve extreme injury to certain body parts. The recommended course of action is to smile brightly and announce that you’re off to the beach in that case. Other responses include engaging said Product Manager in a long and involved discourse as to the benefits of documentation in product sales etc. Note that this approach works best when used simultaneously with illegal drugs (for either or both of the parties involved).

Wow, you really take your job seriously, don’t you?

As said by a Support Engineer after I shrieked on realizing that he had inserted some bizarre English sentences into a document without telling me. My response at that time was to shriek some more, accompanied by some rapid breathing and high-pitched laughter. I’m not sure what that was about but this is not the recommended response. The correct response is to say “Yes, I do. Thank you for the compliment”.

I don’t speak Hebrew so I thought I’d go into technical writing and my friend said to talk to you about it.

As said by any number of people who have phoned me up over the past 5 years. Aaarghh. As far as I’m concerned, technical writing is not a “One Size Fits All” profession for anybody who speaks English (or Russian or French or Hebrew for that matter). I’m sure you are wondering what response I give on the phone to these people. I usually say “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It doesn’t sound to me like you would be very suited at technical writing”. At which point they say thank you very much and promptly go off and become Documentation Managers – thereby proving me horribly wrong. However, the fact still remains that I think tech writing is so much more than a blanket profession for all anglos.

The English is incorrect – you are missing the word “to”.

And other editing comments sent to me by reviewers. You have no idea how many “corrections” I get to my English from non-native speakers who are reviewing the documentation. It’s sweet of them to want to try and help me – but do they honestly think they know English better than me? And the answer to that, ladies and gentlemen, is Yes. 99% of Israelis think they know English better than you. There is absolutely no correct response to this whatsoever.

Why do technical writers complain all the time?

As asked innocently by several guys in my company. Oy, oy, oy – this is a hard one. I think it just comes with the job description. After all – it is our job to accuse, ascribe, attack, fret, fuss, gainsay, grieve, gripe, wail, whimper, whine, and yammer. I’m quite proud of my ability to yammer for hours on end. In fact – I won an award once for Best Yammer of the Year – but that is a whole other story…..

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